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  • Writer's pictureGeorge Nenni

Stop Throwing Website Analytics into the Miscellaneous File

Updated: May 1, 2020

Each time I get fresh access to a dealer’s Google Analytics, I hold my breath in anticipation of what the results will look like. My first task it to look at the dealer’s high-level traffic report, inspecting the volume and quality of website visitors they receive from organic search, paid search, social media, etc. A common disappointment is when I see a large chunk of untagged, mis-tagged, ill-tagged, mal-tagged traffic, as I know the dealer may be dealing with an unsophisticated agency, and I’ve got my work cut out for me.

My goal is to measure the effectiveness of a dealer’s digital marketing campaign, so my first mission is to make sure the incoming traffic is properly identified. A large portion of the traffic will typically categorize itself. Traffic channels such as paid search, organic search (most of it) and organic social typically lands in the proper bucket to identify it. The problem arrives when third party agencies are running campaigns, but don’t have a good understanding how to properly tag the traffic they are driving to the dealer’s website. The tool they use are UTM codes (Urchin Tracking Module), and their lack of a deep understanding of these codes can make it very challenging for dealers to inspect their incoming campaign. UTM codes are simply suffixes that append to the end of a normal URL, helping analytics tools understand where the traffic came from. UTM codes may sound complicated, but they are definitely not. However, there are specific rules, syntax that must be followed or problems will arise. There are two main categories of problems the agencies create: 1) Not understanding how Google prescribes these codes to be used, resulting in 100% of the agency traffic going into the Other channel (miscellaneous file) 2) Taking shortcuts and not tagging each specific campaign, making it nearly impossible to determine which campaigns are working. Worst case scenario (see screen shot below), the Other Channel is the dealer’s largest traffic category.

The good news is, the mechanics of fixing the problems are very easy. The bad news is, it can be an uphill battle with non-responsive agencies. These agencies wonder why I care so much that their traffic is being filed in the miscellaneous drawer, is it really hurting anything? I simply respond that my goal is to help the dealership determine which digital marketing channels are offering the best ROI, and without properly tagging the campaigns, they have a very opaque relationship with their agency. I find these issues are most common with traditional media companies who also offering digital services. I apologize for generalizing, but I across the board newspapers, cable companies, television and radio stations all deliver digital campaigns that are improperly tagged, or not tagged at all. These companies provide the dealer with high level reporting from their back-end systems, but do not inspect the traffic downstream to measure quality. However, traditional agencies are not alone. It is even more surprising to me that many large automotive digital-only agency players also suffer from same issues, a lack of understanding how to properly tag campaigns, and even worse low willingness to make things right.

These agencies should not just take my word for it, they should read the published standards by Google, or better yet, the published automotive standards by PCG. I’m not saying PCG’s standards are perfect, but I haven’t heard anyone else trying to bring organization to this process, so I applaud them for putting some standards out there. In addition, one of the best investments these agency teams could take is attending a training course on to inspect website traffic using Google Analytics. Google offers online certification classes for a great overall understanding. Better yet here is a free plug for my friend Brian Pasch, attend either his online classes, or his onsite Google Analytics training next month in New Jersey. I’ve attended each of these, and highly recommend.

Let’s face it, informed and proactive dealers are grabbing the wheel today on the attribution bus and inspecting their campaigns themselves using Google Analytics. These dealers produce their own reports showing which campaigns are working and which ones are not and comparing these reports to the ones provided by the agencies. These agencies need to wake up and realize that if they don’t understand how their campaigns will be measured going forward, they will be the first vendor dropped by the informed dealer.

I hope you have found this information helpful. If you are an automotive retailer, I would love to help you with a complimentary digital marketing audit, including analyzing your paid search and social media spending. I can help you improve your return on ad spend and gain more transparency with your digital marketing investments.

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